Underrated lists are difficult to manage. On one hand, you don’t want to list a bunch of people or things no one has ever heard of because they won’t have a frame of reference. On the other, you can’t just list a bunch of huge stars who you happen to like more than most people. As I mentioned in my last column, I think Tom Cruise is underrated, but he would not qualify for this list. For this list, I went for a balance of well-known and “oh yeah, he WAS good” types of actors. We’ll see how it turns out.
1. Jeff Daniels
The best and worst thing to happen to Jeff Daniels was “Dumb and Dumber.” That’s probably an exaggeration, but for me (and mostly everyone else my age) he is always going to be Harry Dunne. It wasn’t until much later that I realized he is a truly gifted dramatic actor. In fact, he and Jim Carrey are sort of the exact opposite. Jeff Daniels is a primarily serious actor who does comedy every now and then, and Jim Carrey is a comedy actor who occasionally does drama every once in a while–and even more occasionally does too much drama (see: “The Number 23”). We forget how many great roles Jeff had in the ’90s. Hell, I even forgot he was Roger Dearly in the live action “101 Dalmatians,” and I love that damn movie. I haven’t seen “The Newsroom,” but I’m glad to hear he’s killing it.
2. Alec Baldwin
He gets a lot of love as Jack Donaghy, but I think a lot of us don’t realize Baldwin was set up to be the next huge movie star. He played Jack Ryan (which puts him in company with Harrison Ford, Ben Affleck, and Chris Pine), was a mob enforcer in “The Juror,” and a superhero in “The Shadow” (more on that later). He stole the show in “Glengarry Glen Ross,” was the lead in the acclaimed “Ghosts of Mississippi,” and went toe to toe with Anthony Hopkins in “The Edge.” He had the looks, he had the charisma, but he just never quite hit it like everyone wanted him to. I don’t know if it’s because he’s better as colorful side characters or because he just never quite picked the right roles. All I know is Alec Baldwin is one of my favorite actors, and we should put him in more movies.
3. Michael Biehn
He’s probably the king of the “Oh, that guy!” for action movies. Biehn’s most recognizable ‘90s roles were as Kyle Reese in “Terminator 2,” Johnny Ringo in “Tombstone,” and Lieutenant Curran in “Navy SEALs.” He’s actually played a Navy SEAL three times total, as crazy-pants Lieutenant Coffey in “The Abyss” and as Commander Anderson in “The Rock,” where he gives a moving monologue during the shower scene before he and his men are gunned down. I’m not necessarily advocating for Michael Biehn as a huge movie star (the movies he’s been the lead in have been…not great). I just would like to see the man get some credit. I don’t know anyone who knows him by name, but people always recognize him. It’s usually along the lines of, “Wait, isn’t he the guy who banged Sarah Connor?” Biehn deserves better.
4. Billy Zane
My man Billy Zane has to be in the conversation for awesomest douches ever because of his turn in “Titanic,” which is obviously what he’s most well-known for. He also played a douchey yet slightly more reserved character in “Tombstone.” Also, who else has seen the ridiculously awesome “Sniper”? I’m of the belief that “Sniper” benefitted hugely from its placement in Blockbuster stores, because I know a lot of people who rented it based solely on its title and VHS cover. Zane also played the lead in “The Phantom”–let’s talk about this for a second. The ’90s tried really hard to make the 1940s pulp novel superhero thing work. First, there was “The Rocketeer,” then Alec Baldwin’s “The Shadow,” and finally “The Phantom.” It really saddens me that audiences never took to them, because I really enjoy all of those movies. Say what you will about the cheesiness, but I felt as if they owned that tone perfectly. Plus, those films are visually stunning (although I am a sucker for ‘40s iconography in general). Sadly, they all bombed and Hollywood gave up. Personally, I think they were simply released a decade too early. I think if they hadn’t been a victim of the cultural tastes of the ’90s, Baldwin and Zane would now be huge movie stars.
5. Christian Slater
Honestly, I probably could have called this list “Christian Slater All-Stars.” He’s one of my favorite on-screen personalities, and he absolutely killed it in the ’90s. To give some context, he started with “Heathers” in ‘89 and then went on a run of Pips in “FernGully,” which is a forgotten yet great animated movie, “True Romance,” his best role in my opinion, and “Interview With The Vampire.” Slater also had roles in “Broken Arrow” with Travolta, “Hard Rain,” an underrated heist movie,” and “Very Bad Things,” which is basically a really fucking dark version of “The Hangover.” He never really broke out as the lead of a huge Hollywood movie like it looked like he would after “Broken Arrow,” a movie that I can’t fathom how it’s been lost in the conversation of awesome ’90s action movies. His run-ins with the law (alcohol stuff, assaulty stuff) probably didn’t help. Either way, I miss his sleazy, constantly sarcastic voice, and I really wish he’d get back in my life.